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Young v. Mercer County Commission

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 27, 2017

John L. Young; Georgetta I. Young Plaintiffs - Appellants
Mercer County Commission, A Missouri Political Subdivision; Clifford Shipley, individually, and his official capacity as Mercer County Commissioner; Zack Martin, individually, and in his official capacity as Mercer County Commissioner; Shane Grooms, individually, and in his official capacity as Mercer County Commissioner Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: September 22, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri - St. Joseph

          Before COLLOTON, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         John and Georgetta Young brought this action against Clifford Shipley, Shane Grooms, and Zach Martin individually and in their official capacities as Mercer County Commissioners, and the Mercer County Commission. The district court[1]granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that they were protected by absolute legislative immunity and qualified immunity, and the Youngs appealed. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the Youngs as the non-moving parties, the facts relevant to this appeal are as follows. See Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014). Mr. Young is the elected part-time prosecutor for Mercer County, Missouri, and he also operates a private law practice there. The Youngs own a home and an office building in Mercer County.

         Mr. Young and the Commission[2] entered into the "Prosecutor/County Lease Agreement" (the "Agreement") covering the Youngs' office building. Pursuant to the Agreement, the office building was designated as Mr. Young's private law office and that of the prosecuting attorney. Additionally, the parties set forth the following terms in the Agreement: (1) the Commission was to provide one full-time secretary, a telephone, and office supplies; (2) Mr. Young was to pay for utilities, internet, and liability insurance for the building; and (3) the Commission was to pay Mr. Young $350.00 monthly "for rent . . . to offset expenses being paid privately for said office." J.A. 240.

         On June 27, 2013, the Commission passed ordinance number 06272013 (the "911 Ordinance"), which mandated that every resident of the county be assigned a permanent 911 address. To facilitate location by emergency responders, the 911 Ordinance directed the Commission to place an address sign where each residential driveway meets the adjoining county or state road. The Youngs' home sits on the corner of United States Highway 65 and a county road named Gaza Place. As a result of the 911 Ordinance, the Youngs' address was changed in October 2013 from "Route 1, Box 34" to "20667 Gaza Place." Shortly thereafter, the Youngs began contesting this change of address because, they argued, the Gaza Place address sent visitors to the side of their house and "a name such as Gaza that people are likely to associate with Middle Eastern conflict arguably is not popular." Appellants' Br. 6. Over the next several months, the Youngs repeatedly requested that the Commission change their address to reflect a location on Highway 65.

         At some point during the Fall of 2013, Mr. Young began insinuating that he would take legal action to resolve the address dispute, and the Commission hired attorneys Matthew Aplington and Ivan Shraeder to look into the matter. As part of this representation, the Commission provided these attorneys with a copy of the Agreement, and Mr. Shraeder advised the Commission that the Agreement violated the Missouri Constitution. Specifically, he identified as problematic the Commission's payment of public money to Mr. Young in the form of rent and Mr. Young's use of the full-time prosecutorial secretary for work arising out of his private practice.

         Thereafter, four events occurred that form the basis of the present suit. First, in December of 2013, the Commission denied Mr. Young's proposed budget request for part-time secretarial assistance in the amount of $5000. Then, on March 31, 2014, the Commission terminated the Agreement and made available space in the county courthouse for the prosecutor's office; suspended the $350.00 monthly rental payments; and wrote a letter to the state attorney general requesting further investigation into the arrangement called for in the Agreement. The latter three actions were all taken at the behest of Mr. Shraeder.

         On August 19, 2014, the Youngs brought this action, asserting a number of claims centered on their contention that the defendants took the above actions in retaliation for their address complaints. Taken from the operative complaint, those claims are as follows: Count 1 sought a declaratory judgment or injunction to prevent the Commission from assigning to the Youngs a Gaza Place address, to declare the 911 Ordinance invalid, and to prevent any further acts of retaliation. Count 2 requested damages from Shipley, Grooms, and Martin in their individual capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for retaliation in violation of the Youngs' First Amendment rights. Finally, Count 3 asserted that the 911 Ordinance's mandate that an address sign be placed on the Youngs' property constituted a taking in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

         The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the district court issued an order granting this motion in part and denying it in part.[3] Specifically, the court determined that the defendants had absolute legislative immunity for their actions in passing the 911 Ordinance and assigning to the Youngs the Gaza Place address, that the court would not invalidate the ordinance, and that the Youngs' takings claim failed to the extent it sought recovery based on the particular address assignment. However, the court denied the motion insofar as it sought to dismiss the retaliation and takings claims. It found, based on the record as it existed at that time, that the defendants were not entitled to legislative immunity for the complained-of actions and that the takings claim could proceed based on the permanent address sign required by the ordinance.

         After further discovery, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the retaliation claims were barred by legislative immunity and that the takings claim failed because the Commission was authorized by Missouri law to erect address signs. The district court granted this motion. Dismissing the takings claim, the court found that the placement of an address sign on the Youngs' property was neither a per se nor a regulatory taking. The Youngs do not appeal this dismissal. As to the retaliation claim, the court held that all four of the above ...

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